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COVID Pushed Stamp Clubs Online; to Detriment of In-Person Shows, the Trend is to Stay There

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Tim Jagielo
Stamp Dealer Ron McVay at his table at the Evansville Stamp and Postcard Show in October. This is the 90th anniversary of the show, and the 93 for the club overall.

Local club celebrates 93 anniversary; Philatelic climate changing with web markets like stamps.com, Mystic and eBay

Host intro for audio:
The hobby of collecting and studying stamps is called philatelics .The hobby has grown … but mainly online … to the determent of in-person stamp shows and auctions. WNIN’s Tim Jagielo attended such a show … and has this report.

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Tim Jagielo
Dealer Guy Gasser of Louisville inspects a stamp for a potential buyer. Any miniscule folds, dots or discolorations reduce the price. He sold it for $100.

Stamp Dealer Guy Gasser of Louisville is inspecting his stamp under a magnifier for a potential customer, turning it carefully with tweezers. His table is covered with showcases of stamps.

After considering the price, the buyer with the name tag “Winky,” slides Gasser a crisp $100 dollar bill for a commemorative Abraham Lincoln Stamp.

It’s the 90th annual EVANSPEX Evansville stamp and Postcard Show held at Reeds Auction Barn in Newburgh in mid October. Dealers sit behind tables of wares while an auction happens behind them.

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Tim Jagielo
Stamp show attendees participate in an auction of stamps, post cards and stamp books.

It’s also the 93rd anniversary of the club overall. The hobby has persisted with online selling and buying growing during the pandemic. As an effect, in-person events like this have become increasingly rare.

“It's great to see — if you know an online buyer (who) comes to a show,” Gasser said to the buyer. “Because that doesn't happen very often.”

“To find out the shows locally, this is the first one I found anywhere,” Winky said.

Collector and dealer Katrina Whitaker said people are drawn to stamp collecting because it’s a timeless hobby with myriad topics.

“Whether it's famous people or animals are famous art … interesting dates, such as the earliest use of a stamp, or maybe the first or last time that the post office was used,” she said. “We have hundreds, if not thousands of dead post offices across the country. And so that gives you a tie into some of the local or national history.”

She prefers French colonial stamps from the 19th and 20th century.

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Tim Jagielo
Stamp dealer and hobbyist Katrina Whitaker

“A lot of times collectors will buy things because they like the way they look,” said Guy Gasser. “They're pretty, the artwork, the way they're designed … the colors.”

Whitaker says the hobby is growing but mostly with online stamp trading groups such as stamps.com and mystic.

She said the email era is definitely changing the landscape in a few ways.

“It is definitely changing the accessibility and the use of postage stamps,” she said. “Because I do know quite a few collectors that collect only used stamps. And as there are fewer used stamps just because of the volume decreasing. Some of those items are becoming a little harder to find.”

Philately is in part the study of stamps. Susanna Mills is editor in chief of the American Philatelic Society. She said clubs are trying to figure out how to move forward in a digital age.

“… does that look like a local stamp club or a wider community that's online?” she said. “There were very few clubs that I know of that kept meeting in person (during the pandemic). And so, adaptation was the name of the game and, and those who did, have continued to adapt, for the most part, you know, if they move to zoom, a lot of them are continuing to use Zoom or do hybrid meetings.”

Gasser says the pandemic revealed how the hobby could be done individually online which is a bad thing for collectors like Arnold Sorenson.

“There used to be a lot of collectors when I was a kid, which is some years back, but there's less than less. Just look around. It's all gray hair, when they have hair.”

“If anything, (online groups are) taking away from meetings like this because they've developed relationships where they can do it by mail or by phone or by computer,” he said. “So attendance at a meeting like this is becoming less and less.”

Sorenson only collects stamps from the Danish West Indies which were issued between 1856 and 1917. These are now the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I was born in Denmark,” he said. “And I'm telling you when I was a kid, and I saw pictures of palm trees and people swimming all year round, The Virgin Islands today look pretty darn good.”

He said the social aspect of the hobby is very important to him.

“Mainly if you are interested in baseball and you can't talk baseball to anyone. How would you feel? Stamp collecting is no different.”

Still — according to the American Philatelic Society President Scott English, there are about 5 million casual hobbyists in the US and 500,000 that spend more than $2,000 per year on the hobby.

If you are interested in getting into stamp collecting, the Evansville Stamp club meets every third Tuesday at the Kiwanis Club in Newburgh at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting is November 20.

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Tim Jagielo
Stamps cover myriad topics — such as the Olympics, and other historical moments.